Evaluating flowering plant selection for pollinator habitat enhancement: Open-pollinated natives vs. native cultivars
This research seeks to improve flowering plant selection for pollinator habitat enhancement by comparing “true” native plants (open-pollinated) to native cultivars (human-bred) in terms of their ability to attract and support native pollinators.
A controlled field study is underway to determine if cultivars of native flowering plants are as attractive to beneficial pollinators as true native species. Two field plots and two educational gardens were designed, installed, monitored, and maintained during the 2012 growing season at the farms of our three farm partners. Preliminary observations were made on pollinator diversity and abundance in and around the study plots. Between May and October of 2013, weather, flower, and pollinator data were collected weekly at the field plots. This data included temperature, cloud cover, wind speed, flower bloom stage, flowers per plant, plant height, time of observation, and pollinator visits.
Opportunities for learning about beneficial pollinators and pollinator habitat were provided to horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and home gardeners through educational signage at all four established gardens. In 2013, educational lectures were given to home gardeners at the Vermont Flower Show and landscape design students at the University of Vermont. An Across the Fence television segment about our research was filmed and aired on WCAX-TV. A website (pollinatorgardens.org) was created to share information about our research with the all audiences. (See Section 3 for a complete list of educational outreach efforts in 2013.)
- Leonard Perry and Annie White filming an Across the Fence episode on pollinator research
- Research Plot and Educational Garden at Maidstone Plant Farm, Maidstone, VT
- Annie White observing pollinator visits to flowers at Maidstone Plant Farm
- Educational signage at research plot sites
- Research Plot at River Berry Farm, Fairfax, VT
The primary objective of this research is to improve flowering plant selection for pollinator habitat enhancement by comparing “true” native plants (open-pollinated) to native cultivars (human-bred) in terms of their ability to attract and support native pollinators. This research project also aims to disseminate information to horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and home gardeners about the importance of native pollinator habitat and methods for establishing and/or restoring habitat to support beneficial native pollinator populations.
To accomplish the primary objective of this research, a controlled field study is underway to determine the abundance and diversity of native pollinators visiting and extracting nectar and pollen from open-pollinated native flowers versus native cultivars within pollinator habitat gardens in agricultural landscapes of Vermont. Two field plots and two educational gardens were designed, installed, and maintained during the 2012 growing season at three farm partner sites. Between May and October of 2013, weather, flower, and pollinator data were collected weekly at the field plots. This data included temperature, cloud cover, wind speed, flower bloom stage, flowers per plant, plant height, time of observation, and pollinator visits.
The second objective of this research to educate horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and home gardeners about the importance of native pollinators and how to restore pollinator habitat in their landscapes. This objective was achieved in 2013 through educational signage, a research website, public lectures, academic lectures, a television appearance, and written publications. (See Section 3 for a complete list of educational outreach efforts in 2013.)
2013 Data Collection: Data was collected from the 3,000 sq. ft. field plots at River Berry Farm and Maidstone Plant Farm during summer 2013 by Annie White, the graduate research assistant, under the guidance of the Dr. Leonard Perry, the principal investigator. Data was collected as proposed in the grant application. Each garden was visited a minimum of four times per month throughout the blooming season (late May through early October).
Weather, flower, and pollinator data were collected at the field plots. This data included temperature, cloud cover, wind speed, flower bloom stage, flowers per plant, plant height, time of observation, and pollinator visits.
Pollinator visits were measured for native and native cultivar flowers per flower and per plant. Pollinator visits to as many flowers as could be viewed simultaneously within each approximately one by one meter single-species plant group (four plants) were counted during five-minute scans. All insects were identified to insect order and bees (hymenoptera) were further distinguished into nine sub-groups, including honeybees, bumblebees, large dark bees, small dark bees, green sweat bees, large carpenter bees, hairy leg bees, dark hairy belly bees, and metallic hairy belly bees.
In winter 2014, the data collected in the summer of 2013 will be statistically analyzed. The data is expected to highlight differences in pollinator preferences between “true” open-pollinated native flowers and cultivars of the same species. The analyzed data, results, and conclusions will be presented in the final SARE report due in April, 2014.
Following the conclusion of the SARE Partnership Grant period, the research plots will continue to be maintained and monitored and data will be collected through the 2014 summer field season. An additional season of field data will strengthen the study’s results and increase its likelihood to be published in academic journals with high-impact factors.
2013 Educational Outreach: Opportunities for learning about beneficial pollinators and pollinator habitat continued to be provided to horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and home gardeners. As outlined in the grant proposal, a website was established in 2013, and educational signage was maintained at all four established pollinator gardens. Five speaking engagements were fulfilled in 2013, as described below. We will continue to engage our audience and disseminate our research results in 2014 through additional speaking engagements, local/regional publications, and academic journals.
The following educational outreach efforts were completed in 2013:
- Educational signage was maintained at both the educational pollinator gardens and the research plots at Maidstone Plant Farm, River Berry Farm, and Full Circle Gardens. The signage explains the importance of native pollinators, the purpose of this research project, and offers instructions to home gardeners on how to create pollinator habitat in their own gardens.
- A website (pollinatorgardens.org) was created to share information about our research with all audiences.
- Annie White gave a one-hour educational lecture on “The Buzz on Pollinator-Friendly Landscapes” at the 2013 Vermont Flower Show.
- Annie White gave three lectures on plant selection for pollinator habitat to University of Vermont college students in landscape design courses. The courses included “Fundamentals of Landscape Design,” “Ecological Landscape Design,” and “Landscape Design for Pollinators.”
- Annie White assisted River Berry Farm Owner and SARE Farm Partner, Jane Sorensen, in creating a new continuing education course at the University of Vermont on “Landscape Design for Pollinators.” Annie served as Jane’s graduate teaching assistant for the course. Students worked on landscape design projects to enhance pollinator habitat for real clients, including five homesteads and five farms in Vermont. During a class field trip, students visited the research plot at River Berry Farm and Annie discussed the pollinator research taking place.
- Leonard Perry and Annie White taped an “Across the Fence” television interview about their research on pollinators and perennials. The segment aired on WCAX-TV October 7, 2013. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUk9APL4EZs.)
- Information about this pollinator research, including a link to the Across the Fence episode and the research website was shared in GreenTalks, a sustainability e-newsletter from Ball Publishing with a world-wide distribution of nearly 30,000.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The target audiences (farmers, horticulturalists, and home gardeners) are being engaged and educated about the importance of native pollinators, the differences between open-pollinated native flowers and native cultivars, and how to enhance pollinator habitat in both agricultural landscapes and home gardens. We have impacted these audiences through our educational signage at the pollinator gardens, our website, public speaking engagements, academic lectures, the Across the Fence television appearance, and written publications.
As a result of the public interest and curiosity about pollinator habitat, River Berry Farm began identifying perennials for sale in their nursery that are pollinator-friendly. The interest of River Berry Farm Owner and SARE Grant Partner, Jane Sorensen, in the topic of pollinator habitat restoration, led to the creation of a new course at the University of Vermont titled “Landscape Design for Pollinators.” The course was taught by Jane and assisted by Annie White.
Educational opportunities and engagements will continue in 2014, as the data is analyzed and results are further disseminated.
University of Vermont, Plant & Soil Science
Jeffords Hall, 63 Carrigan Dr.
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026560466